Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Many Skins of Robert Duvall

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Many Skins of Robert Duvall

Article excerpt

AS AN ACTOR, Robert Duvall has been defined by his ability to change skins. That makes his role in "A Family Thing," now filming in and around Memphis, a career ultimate. In the film directed by Richard Pearce ("A Long Way Home") he's Earl Pilcher, an Arkansas redneck who discovers in midlife he's half-black.

Duvall seems never to stop working at it. He has three films not yet released: "The Night It Rained on Henrietta," "Something To Talk About" (with Julia Roberts) and "The Scarlet Letter," an adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel set in New England before the American Revolution.

He describes his role as Demi Moore's husband in "The Scarlet Letter" as "one of the strangest I've ever played. They've changed it a little bit. I come out part Indian. I do it with a British colonial accent."

He went to Russia to play the title role in "Stalin." He did it with an accent that Nikita Mikhalkov, director of "Burnt By the Sun," described as having "just the right Georgian touch."

In "Wrestling Ernest Hemingway," one of his favorites, he was almost unrecognizable as a sweet, gentle Cuban barber in his 70s in exile in Florida.

And in "Family Thing," Arkansan screenwriter Tom Epperson has remarked on the accuracy of Duvall's twang.

The San Diego-born actor says he owes it all to his mother.

"I was one of those kids who loved to mimic everything, but my mother was the great one. Her family didn't want her to be a professional actress so she was a natural amateur. I picked it up from her."

Duvall was brought up mainly in the East and lives on a farm in Virginia. A few of the many films in which he played Southerners are "Tender Mercies," "To Kill a Mockingbird," "Ramblin' Rose" and the TV miniseries "Lonesome Dove." One of his favorite films is "Tomorrow," a 1972 film made in Mississippi and based on a William Faulkner short story.

In his own skin, Duvall is slender, balding and younger in appearance and manner than his 64 years. You can imagine him as a bantamweight.

In a break between scenes on a set at the old International Harvester Plant in Frayser, he was direct, nervously energetic and tough in a matter-of-fact way. …

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